Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Trouble in Paradise

Saturday afternoon I was sitting at the dining room table, minding my own business and listening to the rain pour down. I couldn't see it because I had to close all the doors and windows to keep the water from blowing in and drowning my house.

Once the downpour had turned to a drizzle, I went to the front door and opened it. Let there be light and air flow once again! As I was standing there, looking out and watching the rivers run from the street down onto the beach and out to sea, I heard a pop and saw a flash.

The next thing I saw was a great plume of black smoke coming from somewhere over in front of the cabana. My neighbors quite often build a fire in front of their house and at first I though they were burning something. Then it dawned on me that they could not have a fire going in this rain.

That thought had just barely crossed my mind when I saw huge flames shooting out of the glass electric meter that belongs to my cabana next door! I ran through the house shouting, "Fire! Fire!", rudely waking up those amongst us who were peacefully taking a siesta. I knew it was an electric fire so I grabbed a towel from the bathroom. I guess I thought I could run over there and smother the flames.

By the time I reached it, the flames were gone and only wisps of hot, smelly smoke remained. Naturally, we have renters in the cabana right now and they came running out also, having heard the same pop and seen the smoke and flames. Amazingly, they still had power!

This is where the meter was installed in the wall.

And the meter itself. Amazing that it still functioned as well as it did!

I called my electrician, but he was away for the day, not to return until Sunday. He is such a good guy that when he got my message, he called me back and said he would be right over. Which he was.

Something about only the neutral rod had been damaged in the fire and then it overloaded the positive, causing the renters to lose all power this morning around 4AM.

Mr Electrician rewired the system into the main grid, bypassing any need for a meter. So I won't be charged for any electricity the next day or so. He is coming back tomorrow with a new meter and will install it and everything should be back to normal. I told him that if I wasn't being charged for electricity in the meantime, there was no hurry. He just laughed.

And what caused the fire? Water and salt. All that white stuff you see above on the meter is salt. Water from rains ran down the wall, got into the salt compromised seal and caused a short.

An interesting side note about Mexico and why I did not call the electric company. Although they provide the meters free of charge, it is the home owner's responsibility to install them and keep them in service. They would not have responded to my call at all, even if the thing was still burning. That sort of thing can be frustrating, to say the least.


lisa said...

Wow! You are lucky that is all that happened!! It defiantly was burnt toast. Ha I came home one time to the lights going dim and bright called company and they couldn't do anything, by then its after 7 p.m. in the cold weather called friend and had to wait until next day to get it looked at properly. Hate to mess with the electrical stuff!!

Calypso said...

Yikes Dude that is a Chernobyl melt down. Essentially a casa version of a nuclear reactor accident. At least there are no after effect fall out.

I have never seen such disintegration of an electric meter - I thought there were fuses on the transformer that would pop before such a melt down?

In any case glad you are safe and your rental is intact ;-) I may need it one day.

threecollie said...

Wow, I am so glad the damage wasn't any worse. Fire is terrifying. Glad you are okay.

KfromMichigan said...

Lucky you and the renters. Electrical is scary. Glad that is all that happened to your cabana.

Islagringo said...

lisa: smart girl. never mess with electrical stuff if you don't know what you are doing.

calypso: there are circuit breakers in a separate box. they did flip but the fire was actually inside the meter, not the fuse box. just let me know the day!

threecollie: it was scary but short lived, thankfully. my worst fire ever was on the farm. we burned paper garbage in a 50 gal drum. our renter burned some stuff and did not put the screen back on top. didn't take long to start the fields on fire!

Calypso said...

Wayne - I mean on the other side of the meter - the power coming from CFE into the meter pod can only be shutdown at the transformer and there are fuses on those transformers for catastrophic power draws like lightning or complete shorts on the source side - anyway it is technical - I was just wondering.

Looking forward to a visit perhaps this winter.

norm said...

We pour salt on the roads here in Ohio to melt the snow, some of it gets on the light poles, every spring when it starts to rain, the pole start to catch on fire from the salt. The pole in my side yard caught fire a few years ago and about burned my hedge to the ground.
I had a house in a flood plain years ago, the flood came and filled the basement with water. The water covered the breaker box and yet nothing tripped.Sump pump was pumping like crazy under 7 foot of water. What is that all about? New box when the water went down..

cozzie laura said...

and CFE would have probably fined you as well. Years ago, someone smashed our meter, not only did we have to pay for it to be replaced, but we had to pay a fine too!

Sue said...

Wayne, I think the electric company has started installing the meters (according to Miguel anyway). They apparently do it cheaper, but not sure of the timeframe or the quality. Just FYI in case you ever need to know.

Glad nobody was hurt - the way electricity is 'installed' here sometimes makes me cringe.

Anonymous said...

Kinda makes one wonder if you should seal off, with plastic or something relatively impenetrable, anything that is subject to this kinda of damage. I repeatedly hear from you ex-pats about the kind of damage salt does .... isn't there any sort of extraordinary measures you can take to ratchet down this threat?

In this case, a sheet of plastic , sealed with a silicon sealant around the edges, might have done something of benefit ....

Easy to say from here, O Robert

Nancy said...

Wow. I knew it was really tough on wiring and electronics to be so close to the water, but this is unreal. Is there any way you can protect it further from the elements?

And, aren't we glad that everything is built out of concrete???

Islagringo said...

calypso: uh, ok. Hope you can get over this way!

norm: ain't life strange sometimes.

cozzie: i will be so pissed if CFE tries to fine me!

Sue: even if CFE installs meter, I would still go with my own electrician. I had to take dated pictures of the damage for him to take to CFE in order to get a new meter. They tried to give him a used one and he refused it so he got a new one. I try not to look at the electrical connections around. They give me the creeps.

O Robert: not a bad idea, but the wind would rip plastic apart in days. I have a roof over the box now but short of that? I will be sealing all around the new meter and all other openings with silicone. But that is just a delay tactic. I don't think there is any real defense against the salt. Just stop gaps. But keep thinking!

Nancy: in cases like this, concrete is a life saver. I would think that you guys would experience the salt problem also. Maybe not as quickly as right on the water, but you are relatively close. Do you ever notice it?

Steve Cotton said...

I think I told you that I pulled the battery out of my three month old laptop and found salt already encrusted. I can only imagine what it looks like internally.

Jackie said...

Yikes! That is scary stuff. The wiring in Mexico is simply amazing and not in a good way.

Calypso said...

An aside about CFE: We left money with CFE for being gone a couple months - turned out we were gone 4 months. When we returned on a Friday night we had no electricity at our casa. The following Monday when the office opened we found we had exhausted our advance payment by ONE peso (currently about 8 cents U.S.). CFE disconnected our service and wanted 300 pesos to reconnect. They can be a mean spirited group.

Anonymous said...

YIKES!!! I'm glad to hear your cabana did not catch on fire!